X-ray crystallographer Vivian Cody has found a way to sit--virtually--in the midst of enzyme drug binding sites. She especially likes to experience the feel of it all--the pushes and pulls that a drug goes through as it finds the coziest place to rest on a protein. Although this kind of molecular space exploration sounds like fun and games, some scientists in academia, industry, and government see it as a most serious and advanced application of "virtual reality," an emerging computer technology that its most enthusiastic advocates suggest could change the entire complexion of research.

While virtual reality has been used by the military and by space scientists for the last decade, pharmacologists, molecular biologists, and theoretical physicists are beginning to venture into its domain. Simply speaking, the technology provides heightened representation of the real, physical attributes of scientific models. It is a tool that takes visualization and interpretation of data...

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